Looking back at supper clubs in and outside Owatonna

Maggie Dixon, who was a teacher in the Owatonna Public Schools, takes an order from a motorist at the Lavender Inn Drive-in at Faribault. (submitted photo)

While driving the other day, I got to thinking about the many supper clubs that Mary and I have patronized over our nearly 60 years of marriage. A few of them I even remember that I patronized when I was single. Thinking of them brought back some great memories.

On the Sunday I arrived in Owatonna in 1959, I ate my evening meal at Hap’s Café, located on Cedar next to Owatonna Shoe. I was told that Hap made great pancakes and I think that was my first meal in Owatonna. Hap’s was a hangout for Pillsbury College students who sat in a booth with their Bibles open, studying the day’s lessons.

When Mary and I were dating we went to our first supper club with her folks. It was Louie Ann’s run by Louie and Ann Schmidt. They were famous in town for their home-cooked meals, especially chicken. The dining room was located on Hoffman Drive about where Hardees is located now. They were good friends of my future in-laws and I got to know them well. The Schmidts were part of a group that Mary and I escorted on a Caribbean cruise. They were great people and Owatonnans lined up to eat there. Louie and Ann eventually closed their restaurant and moved to the Rochester area.

One of the first supper clubs I remember when I came to town was the Hickory House, located at the Owatonna airport. It was run by Clarence Warwick and boasted steaks cooked over charcoal. Wayne Klinkhammer told me he cooked for Clarence on busy weekends for about two years. Wayne told me, “The biggest challenge was preparing steaks and chicken the way the customer wanted and having them all done at the same time.” Wayne told me that Chuck Hammel opened the restaurant and later sold it to Warwick. The demise of the Hickory House was when the new interstate highway was built and there was no exit from the highway to the airport. (There was no 26th street exit at the time).

After we were married, we religiously patronized other Owatonna restaurants. As with many of you, Jerry’s was one of our favorites. I can still taste the wonderful steaks that were served at Jerry’s. We always knew that we would find many friends in the dining room and bar at Jerry’s. It was Owatonna’s favorite spot to dine. I can remember on New Year’s Eve when there was a line of people stretched out the door and around the corner on Vine Street waiting for a table. In Jerry’s heyday, one had to have a reservation to have lunch there. I remember that one booth was always reserved for Glen and Billie Degner who had lunch at Jerry’s every day. The bar at Jerry’s reminded me of television’s Cheers. When one walked in, whoever was tending bar had your drink waiting for you. I can remember the large cheese roll and crackers that were always in the bar.

The wait staff at Jerry’s was all female and they all became our friends that we looked forward to seeing. Our Wednesday night stag group usually wound up at Jerry’s where Monie Fix or sometimes Irene Wanous would be waiting to serve us. At the end of our meal, Monie would fix us complimentary chocolate sundaes to top the night off.

Waitresses included Joan Johnson and Irene Wanous who began as waitresses when the restaurant opened in 1960. Irene and Joan were working at Hap’s Café when a couple of waitresses from Jerry’s stopped in and showed them their tips. As Irene told me, “It didn’t take long for us to realize that that was where we should be. Audrey Bohlman, Betty Bang and Vera Beers joined the waitresses at Jerry’s two years later. Betty was killed in a car-train crash in Meriden some years later. Other waitresses I remember included Sharon Soukup, Helen Ulrich, Ann Steele, Sheri Utpadel, Ester McInnish, Eleanor Trenda, Pearl Petersburg, Lorraine Mueller (hostess), Vickie Lehman, Thelma Minges, Leora Richardson, Betty Buss, Jen Mollenhauer, Melissa Block Deb Singlestad and Jane Morley. Several of these ladies continued waitressing after Jerry’s closed. One often sees Sharon Soukup at Costas’ and Jane Morley works in the food department at Federated. She also was a long-time waitress at the Country Club. I remember Betty Bang telling me, “We used to dread Friday and Saturday nights. People were lined up out the door onto the sidewalk and around the corner to get in. You could enjoy a beef filet dinner for under $10.00. In fact, when Jerry Cashman opened Jerry’s he didn’t want anything on the menu that cost over $5.00.

Bartenders, cooks and bus boys

There were quite a number of bartenders that worked at Jerry’s. I remember Jim Schoeneke, Paul Kuyath, Clarence Warwick, Don Wesely, Bill Middendorf, Chuck Bloomer, Nancy Hallenberger, Nancy Yanke, Karen Luxton, Karen Splett and one of the last ones, Kim Possehl. Kim had bartended at the Country Club prior to coming to Jerry’s. I never had to tell him what I wanted to drink. He already knew.

Cooks included Edna Brown, Eva Drivdahl, Floyd Nemitz, Grace Ressler, Frances Pechacek, Sandy Drivdahl, Craig Jensen and Vera Beers. Early bus boys I remember were Jerry Wacek, Rick Ebeling and Dave Schlobohm. There were also several high school age boys that bussed tables.

Some notable people always stopped at Jerry’s when they visited Owatonna. There were names like Sid Hartman, George Grimm, Hubert Humphrey, Kirby Puckett, Herb Brooks, Harman Killebrew Jesse Ventura and Art Linkletter to name a few.

The sign on Jerry’s building has never been taken down. Maybe that’s a good thing because it continues to bring about the memories of special gatherings with friends of the past. There is a -plan in the works to re-develop that building as part of a block-long project. The 200 block of Cedar was minus a supper club for many years until Torey’s moved to the Coast to Coast hardware building across the street.

Jerry’s passing

I remember the day when Jerry Cashman died when stricken by a heart attack when playing golf at the Country Club. He didn’t live to see the addition of the Fireside Room at the restaurant. Florence Cashman along with Floyd Nemitz continued to run the restaurant until it was sold to Bob Schuster. Subsequent owners were Dave Jensen and Dave Born.

Read ‘em and weep!

A copy of a 1960 menu at Jerry’s always hung in the hall of the restaurant. Here’s a sample: New York Steak. $3.95, Filet Mignon, $3.65, Chopped Sirloin, $1.95, Prime Rib, $3.50, Jumbo Shrimp, $2.25, Seafood Plate, $2.75, King Crab, $2.75, Shrimp Cocktail, 65 cents, and you could enjoy a lunch smorgasbord for $1.00. For ten bucks you could have quite a night out at Jerry’s.

Another downtown supper club was the Wheel and Lantern Room at the Kahler Hotel located at Oak and Vine. I didn’t go there as often as I went to Jerry’s but I enjoyed the piano bar where local pianists such as Dan Smith, Noreen Jensen of Ellendale, and Earl Beals played. The piano bar was a gathering place for lots of teachers who gathered there after school on a Friday night. Little Theater cast members would also show up after a rehearsal night.

There was the Scotch Hearth in North Owatonna initially run by Al McDonald. It was later named The Hearth. Butch Slacter ran the restaurant. The final owner was Tom Luxton who changed the name to The Hearth. There was a large fireplace in the middle of the dining room.

There were supper clubs in rural Steele County including Kearney’s in Ellendale and Paul Mueller’s Silver Saddle in Medford. There was also a supper club in Bixby but I forget the name.

Neighboring supper clubs

There were a couple of supper clubs in Faribault that Mary and I enjoyed. The Evergreen Knoll was owned by former Owatonnan John Tuthill, who also ran King Tut’s Pizza in Owatonna. I remember enjoying Larry Lorenz playing the electric organ in the bar area. Larry also played for Vern White at White’s Café located next to Elwood’s Cleaners. It was always a treat to pay a visit to the Lavender Inn in Faribault. This restaurant opened in 1960. Maggie Dixon, who still lives in Owatonna and was an Owatonna teacher, started as a carhop where she worked from 1960-1964. Yes, the Lavender Inn was formerly a drive-in. For a column many years ago, Maggie told me, “Lots of fond memories remain with many of us who worked for Gaylen and Bebe Jensen at the Lavender Inn. I felt very special being one of their first carhops when the Lavender Inn opened. I, along with five of my good friends, were hired in the summer of 1960 when we had just completed our junior year at Faribault High School. Bebe gave us thorough interviews and white uniforms to wear. No jeans or shorts for Lavender Inn gals!

“Gaylen and Bebe were like second parents to us gals because we were still minors. If our parents weren’t able to come and get us after work, Gaylen would give us a ride home. Gaylen and Bebe worked right along with their employees and they usually worked the hardest of all. Their daughter, Gay, started out as a youngster picking up paper in the parking lot. She worked her way up to the top!”

How did the Lavender Inn get its name? The story I was told was that Gay’s favorite color was lavender and the Jensen’s had some lavender paint left after painting their home, so they painted the little carhop restaurant lavender. Maggie said, “I worked each summer between high school and college and waitressed in the new red dining room in 1963. In 1974 I went back to work at the restaurant and was so impressed with the upstairs purple dining room, art gallery and gift shop. I was there until 1985 and made many good and lasting friends there. The Lavender Inn was famous for its Broasted Chicken.

Incidentally, Maggie took over Alice Thompson’s class when Alice married the school principal, Elmer Reseland. The district didn’t think it was proper for her to teach in the same school as her husband. Maggie also taught Title 1 at Washington School and taught English and Spanish at the junior high.

Card clubs

Mary and I joined several card clubs which led us to dining experiences. We were members of the Holiday House in St. Peter, The Chart House in Bloomington (where the Armond Rezac combo played) and Diamond Jim’s in Mendota Heights. I can still remember the large pipe organ at Diamond Jim’s that came out of the floor of the stage and was played prior to the featured act which included some notable entertainers like Maurey Amsterdam, Margaret Whiting and others. During dinner, a beautiful girl swung on a trapeze over the dining room.

An upcoming move

There have been some questions by some as to the building of a Kwik Trip where the Sterling Drug is located. Just to clarify, the former gift shop will be moving to a location on North Cedar next to Nick’s Pizza. The Sterling Drug Store will remain at its present site.

New Owatonna adult chorale

A new adult chorale is being formed soon in Owatonna under the direction of Garrick Comeaux and accompanied by Owatonna’s Lisa Richmond. All singers interested in participating are encouraged to contact Garrick and arrange an informal audition. Good sight reading is a must. Please make contact by October 11 at 612-741-2524 or by e-mail at garrickcomeaux@msn.com. Garrick is the music director at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Owatonna.

Owatonna Foundation week

This week celebrates all that has been accomplished in the past 61 years through the generosity of the Owatonna community and their support of the Owatonna Foundation. Events being held this week include a “Breakfast for Professionals” at the Owatonna Arts Center on Tuesday, the “Legacy Luncheon” at the Owatonna Country Club to honor those donors who have included the Owatonna Foundation as part of their estate plan or made a contribution through the ‘Living Legacy” program. At this luncheon, the annual presentation of the “Spirit of the Community Award” will be presented this year to Jean and Edith (Dede) Zamboni for their community service. Thursday the public is invited to the Foundation Week “Wine and Beer Tasting Event” at the Holiday Inn, sponsored by Cashwise Liquor and the Holiday Inn. Tickets are $15.00 in advance or $20.00 at the door. Purchase tickets at the Foundation office on Park Square, at Cashwise Liquor, or Kottke Jewelers. Friday night at the OHS Homecoming game the OHS cheerleaders will be tossing out t-shirts during half-time, sponsored by Court Sports and More.

The Owatonna Foundation recently received a $5,000 donation from Mayo Clinic in Owatonna.

Tidbits

The annual Chili/Wild Rice Soup Feed sponsored by the Owatonna Firefighters Relief Association will be held tomorrow from 4-7 p.m. at the fire department to kick off Fire Prevention Week. Tickets are $8.00 at the door.

An open house to celebrate Public Power Week will be held this Thursday, October 10, at the Public Utilities Office from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Joke of the week

A passenger in a taxi leaned over to ask the driver a question and gently tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the curb and stopped just inches from a large plate glass window. The shaky driver said, “Are you OK? I’m so sorry, but you scared the daylights out of me.” The badly shaken passenger said he didn’t realize that a mere tap on the shoulder would startle the driver so badly. The driver said, “No, No, I’m the one who’s sorry. Today is my first day driving a cab. I’ve been driving a hearse for 25 years!”

Todd Hale can be reached at tmhale632@gmail.com or write him at 632 14th St. S.E. Phone contact is 507-456-7304.

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